More than 300,000 Canadian work permits are issued every year, though they are increasingly difficult to obtain and increasingly more in demand. With work permits often being a critical step in permanent immigration, it is important to get the right work permit at the right time.

There are over 20 kinds of work permits, including LMIA-based Work Permits, NAFTA-based Work Permits, Student Work Permits, Spousal Work Permits, Intra-Company Transferee Work Permits and Working Holiday Permits. Various Work Permit Exemptions exist, too. Which work permit is best for you?

LMIA-Based Work Permit

This is a 2 step process.  First, the employer must obtain a Labour Market Impact Assessment (“LMIA”) from the government department known as Employment and Social Development Canada (“ESDC”) or Service Canada. A positive LMIA will state that hiring a foreign worker for a particular position would not have a negative effect on the Canadian labour market.  In other words, would hiring a foreign national take away a job from a Canadian?

ESDC/Service Canada will consider factors such as:

  • Would hiring the foreign worker result in jobs created or maintained?
  • Would skills or knowledge be transferred to Canadians?
  • Is there a shortage of workers for the specified occupation and location?
  • Is the employer offering prevailing market wages for the position?
  • Did the employer advertise or try to recruit in Canada for the position?
  • Is there is a labour dispute in process?
  • Has the employer made reasonable efforts to comply with conditions of a previously-issued LMIA?

For some qualifying positions – high-demand, high-pay or short-stays (maximum 120 days) – an expedited 10 business day processing is available.

Once you have a positive LMIA in hand, the second step is for the foreign worker to apply for a work permit.

LMIA work permits are increasingly difficult to obtain as application fees have increased, stricter advertising guidelines are in place, the period of LMIA validity has decreased, and rigid employment/wage statistics are increasingly relied on. At Lowe & Company, our constant interaction with ESDC/Service Canada and our understanding of hiring in various business sectors enables us to prepare strong LMIA work permit applications to confront the otherwise overwhelming ESDC/Service Canada demands.

NAFTA-Based Work Permits

The North American Free Trade Agreement (“NAFTA”) allows citizens of the USA and Mexico to obtain certain Canadian work permits without an LMIA. The main NAFTA categories are:

  • Professionals:  American or Mexican citizens with minimum academic or alternative credential requirements with, generally, pre-arranged employment in Canada.  (ex: accountants, computer systems analysts, graphic designers, engineers, lawyers, pharmacists, scientists and more).
  • Intra-company Transferees (“ICT”): those who have
    • worked with an affiliate of the Canadian company in the USA or Mexico for at least one year in the past three years; and
    • the position has been executive,  senior managerial, or required specialized knowledge.
  • Investors:  This is one of the most useful, but least used, NAFTA categories. Americans and Mexicans who have a “substantial investment” in a business in Canada may obtain a work permit to develop or direct the business.  Though the investment must be “substantial”, there is no specified minimum; we have used this for everything from consulting businesses to golf course developments.
  • Traders:  American or Mexican citizens who are engaged in “substantial trade” in goods and services between Canada, the USA and Mexico may obtain a work permit to develop and direct the Canadian business.

Business visitors who meet specified criteria do not even require a work permit at all under NAFTA.

Besides NAFTA, Canada has negotiated similar provisions under free trade agreements with Korea, Chile, Peru, Columbia and various European and Asian countries.

Student Work Permits

Students can usually work on the university or college campus where they are studying without a work permit (ex: teaching assistant, researcher, campus bookstore clerk, restaurant attendant, and more).

If you are enrolled and studying in a qualifying school, you may also be eligible to work off campus, for up to 20 hours per week during the time you are school is in session, and full time during scheduled breaks.

Graduates of qualifying Canadian schools may be eligible for an open work permit for up to three years, depending on the program of study and duration of study.  There are also strict time limits for applying for a Post-Graduation Work Permit.

Spousal Work Permits

If you are married, or have been living with a common-law partner for at least one year, you may be eligible to apply for an open work permit based on your spouse/common-law partner’s eligible work permit, study permit or work permit exemption.

If your spouse or common-law partner is sponsoring you for permanent resident status from within Canada, you may also be eligible to apply for an open work permit.

Intra-Company Transferee Work Permits

Overseas companies may sometimes have established or wish to establish a branch in Canada.  Like the ICT Work Permit under NAFTA, work permits can be issued for employees of these companies if they have:

  1. worked with an affiliate of the Canadian company overseas for at least one year in the past three years; and
  2. the position has either been executive,  senior managerial, or required specialized knowledge.

Working Holiday Permits

Canada has agreements with many countries which allow their citizens, usually age 18-35, to obtain work permits through the Working Holiday Programs (“WHP”).  Canada’s WHP is well-known in countries like Australia, Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the USA, but many other countries such as Hong Kong, Italy, France, Spain and others also have WHPs.  Each country has varying options and eligibility, but the main categories are:

  • Working Holiday:  This is the most flexible: allows you to work for any employer, in any occupation;
  • Young Professionals: This is specific to an employer and occupation;
  • International Coop:  This is specific to an employer to work in an occupation related to your studies.

Work Permit Exempt Activities

Some activities may not even require a work permit; for example, religious workers who are preaching, teaching, or counseling in spiritual matters do not usually require a work permit.  Other examples include certain business visitors, performing artists, and guest speakers.

Pitfalls to Avoid

There are a number of traps and pitfalls you may encounter while applying for a work permit. Foreign workers and Canadian companies alike could face serious repercussions for both inadvertent and deliberate non-compliance with immigration laws.  Important issues include: working illegally, misrepresenting or withholding material facts, implications of leaving Canada during renewal processing, renewal limitations, and bans on returning to Canada. At Lowe & Company, we are well-acquainted with the numerous work permit and authorizations available; we can lead you through your options and the crucial considerations involved.